Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Attacking tribal sovereignty

The Hill
Washington, DC

Attacking tribal sovereignty
From Jared Hautamaki

As a former Congressional Black Caucus staffer, Native American attorney, and recent attendee of the Federal Bar Association Indian Law Conference, I am torn by the unnecessary divisions being caused by the CBC to relations between African Americans, Democrats and Native Americans (Frank sides with CBC, holds fast on Cherokee funding, April 21, and related articles).

Reps. Diane Watson (D-Calif.) and Mel Watt (D-N.C.) fail to grasp the very fundamental fact that tribes are sovereign nations, and under basic principles of sovereignty, as well as the Supreme Court precedent of Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, tribes as nations are entitled to determine their own membership. While I am no fan of the decision to disenroll the Freedmen descendants, the Cherokee Nation is entitled to self-determination.

This principle of self-determination has undoubtedly created tensions within Indian Country, with tribes changing membership criteria in various instances for financial, cultural and other reasons, but it is a matter for Indian Country and not the Congress. While Congress has plenary power to regulate commerce ... with the Indian tribes, the trust relationship does not include meddling in tribal membership. (we can always trust congress to meddle..)

Attacking one tribe over issues of defining membership is an attack on the sovereignty of all tribes. The CBC risks years of cultivating relationships between the Democratic Party and Indian Country in one ugly misunderstanding over race and internal tribal politics. Tribes and Democrats make better allies than enemies, but I'm not sure that relationship will survive the CBCs misinformed and misguided attack on basic principles of tribal sovereignty.

Gaithersburg, Md.

(Since the Freedmen could not get anywhere in the Court of Claims they sued in Federal District Court of DC, where the court has literally taken the case on as a Black Civil Rights Case - treating the Cherokee Nation as if it were some sort of private club, rather than a respected sovereign nation, which was here long before the Europeans arrived.)

(Perhaps congress needs to wake up to the fact that within their mists is a group called the Congressional Black Caucus that needs to be opened up to all rather than a mandatory Blacks only group membership.)

Cherokee chief goes astray in CBC battle over membership

By From Sean Nordwall, Cherokee citizen

Posted: 04/30/08 05:36 PM [ET]

(Regarding article “Frank sides with CBC, holds fast on Cherokee funding,” April 21.) It is alarming for tribes to see Congress get involved in tribal disputes, but the Cherokee Nation administration under Principal Chief Chad Smith has ignored every chance to resolve the Freedmen membership issue before it got to this point, including repeatedly refusing to meet with the Freedmen at every point during this ordeal. The political theater that is unfolding is one of money, power and cronyism. (Sean, forgets that in our outlying Cherokee meetings, the Chief most graciously allowed the Freedmen faction to speak and speak for quite some time on this issue - what Sean fails to understand is, the Freedmen believe they are entitled to membership in the Cherokee Nation because they are descendants of Black slaves not because they are Cherokee.)

Smith has put over $4 million into hiring lobbyists to fight a PR battle against the Congressional Black Caucus and our own Cherokee citizens. The CN administration is framing the issue around a tribe’s right to select its membership, which is a given. However, one can also frame the issue by asking the commonsense question, Can tribes break a treaty that their relationship with the United States is soundly based on? The answer is no. … (unfortunately Sean, again does not have a grasp of the 1866 Treaty and the rights conferred under it; this PR battle was necessitated by the Freedmen - most tribes in California run TV infomercials, to let the public know, what's going on and how they help their surrounding communities, this helps to eliminate the isolationism which Newt Gingrich speaks of. This is a positive thing for the Tribes to do - it eliminates the Hollywood bias that has been created for so many years - the better question is why is only this one provision of that 1866 Treaty being enforced against the Cherokee Nation, while leaving other provisions apparently unenforced because they are outdated?)

Federal and Cherokee courts have long sided with the Freedmen. The CN administration shows no intent to follow any ruling by any court, and continues to appeal, while its members sit back and run out their terms in office. This is their strategy. (this siding he speaks of, was not true in the court of claims action, in which they were seeking money damages on a 100+ year old Treaty - and the result of the Cherokee court ruling was to amend the Cherokee Constitution to clarify the membership criteria, the Cherokee people voted on that as well and it passed - Congress does the same thing as in, if they don't like a court decision they pass legislation to change the effect of the ruling to what they want - Hello, Sean. Strategy to run out their terms - where is this coming from?)

Individuals whose campaigns were financed by Smith have a super majority on the CN Tribal Council. Smith has appointed his own personal legal counsel as the attorney general for the CN, in a clear conflict of interest. … (the at large councilors financed their own campaigns)

I believe now one can see the picture a little more clearly, and see why Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) holds fast on Cherokee funding. (But Sean, you seem to be missing the point that the Congressional Black Caucus is merely treating this as a Black issue not a Cherokee issue - no one can join the Congressional Black Caucus unless you are Black - don't you find that ironic? The pot calling the kettle black!)

Scottsdale, Ariz.

(Sean Nordwell, ran for Councilor at large in the last election and lost, he is a contractor or developer out of San Clemente, California. What he fails to realize as he continues to blame the Chief for everything is the fact that the Cherokee people voted to uphold our tribal citizenship criteria to those who are Cherokee)